The world of website development has come so far that there's very little you can't do online these days. But in spite of the progress—including easy-to-build websites like Squarespace, Wix and others—churches, ministries and nonprofit organizations still struggle getting their websites to accomplish their goals. Sometimes it's an expectation problem (because after all, they don't teach website development in seminary or Bible college) and sometimes it's a lack of good advice. Either way, I decided to create a baseline list of what your website should be able to do. And if it doesn't, you need to have a serious talk with your in-house webmaster or your outside vendor:
1. Your website should work. Sure, there are times when sites or servers have issues, but they should be few and far between. If your site malfunctions on a regular basis, something is wrong. Don't allow your webmaster or outside vendor to make excuses. If they can't get it running smoothly on a regular basis, it's time to look for another vendor.
2. You should be able to manage it in-house. With the exception of major design or technical changes, there's no reason you should have to "submit a request" for changes on your site and then wait for the vendor to follow up. Most day to day administrative activities like posting blogs or videos, adding content, updating photos, new pages, changing store products and more should all be done by your internal team. If your vendor is forcing you to submit requests for everything, they're just looking for ways to make more money—period.
3. Your online store or donation engine should work. In the early days, e-commerce was hit or miss, but today, there are plenty of options that work very well. If your church or ministry is relying on product sales or encouraging donations, then it should be easy, streamlined and simple to do. If people are trying to buy or donate and can't do it, it's time to look for another service.
4. You should be notified whenever anything goes wrong. If a donation can't be processed for any reason, or a software update is required, or any other issue, you should get an immediate notification. I spoke to a church recently who said the only way they know their donor page isn't working is when a potential donor calls to let them know. That's embarrassing and antiquated. Make sure you're getting notified of any problem so you can fix it now.
5. Your website should work beautifully on mobile devices. Mobile is the future, so your videos, online store, donation engine, blog and more should all work just fine from mobile devices. And I'm not just talking about what's called "responsive"—which is simply shrinking everything down—I'm talking about truly thinking through how the content is presented in mobile environments.
6. Finally, be skeptical of "maintenance fees." I know some churches who have paid monthly fees to web companies for years and received little or nothing in return. When major software needs updating or occasional problems happen, fine. But you should never be held hostage to outside companies charging you monthly fees.
So what do you do if you're experiencing any of these issues?
1. It's time for a "come to Jesus" meeting with your webmaster or internet vendor. In today's online world, power surges, server problems and other things happen, but not often. You need a reliable website, so be leery of excuses.
2. Make sure your website provider has a great track record. Talk to their other customers—particularly other churches, ministries or nonprofits. Ask tough questions. Find out how well their websites function. References matter.
3. Make sure your website can deliver what you need. Live streaming, video on demand, blogs, social media options—whatever your ministry needs, your website should be able to deliver.
4. Don't wait. I know churches that put up with problems for months or years. But the truth is, every day your website isn't functioning properly, you're losing potential visitors, donors or product sales. My experience indicates that virtually 100 percent of potential new visitors to your church will check out your website first. When it's that important, you can't afford to not have it perform.
5. Last, and perhaps most important – hire a team that's a partner instead of a vendor. A partner has the ministry's best interests in mind (not finding ways to bill more money for features the church doesn't need) and will work with you to find the best way to accomplish the church's vision.
At the end of the day, the website is another tool for communicating vision (just like the weekend service) so it's important the experience online reflects the same level of excellence the church strives for everywhere else.
In the 21st century, church and ministry websites should work. It's time to stop with the excuses, so find a vendor or webmaster you have confidence in, then build an easy-to-use site with a compelling design, and watch your ministry grow. Any questions, just reach out through the comments below and we'll do our best to help.
An internationally known writer and speaker, Phil Cooke has produced media programming in nearly 50 countries around the world.
This article originally appeared at philcooke.com.
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